MASS EFFECT 3
I'm sort of in a pickle. Here's a game that was overhyped to the point where everyone had unreasonable expectations. Now released to the public, it received critical acclaim, except for one thing: the ending. I would like to say that despite the ending, the game itself, to me, felt underwhelming. Before I do that, here are my thoughts of the first two games before going into the third one. Oh, and this review contains spoilers, so heads up!
To describe both games within a sentence: Mass Effect is an RPG with third-person shooter elements and Mass Effect 2 is a third-person shooter with RPG elements. There's quite a difference between the two, considering that the first game had an in-depth skill system, large worlds to explore, and a refreshing story that uses different sci-fi media to create a new universe with unique races and planets, while using third-person shooter mechanics. Mass Effect 2 became more of an action-packed third-person shooter, but left a lot out of the RPG mechanics for a more mainstream approach. No longer do we have an in-depth skill system, large worlds to explore, and a story that was still good, but didn't have the mysteriousness nor did it have the mysticism of exploring new worlds.
People often complained that the shooting mechanics in Mass Effect and the vehicle sections (or the Mako sections) were the weak aspects of the game. Thing is, those things was what made it unique. The game industry was making killer sales with military shooters, whether it be third-person (Gears of War) or first-person (Call of Duty), and would continue onward to make the market rather stale with bland, mediocre shooters with the same mechanics used over and over again.
Mass Effect did some things to make it stand out. You didn't have to collect ammo, it just overheats. With the overheating mechanic, you weren't necessarily tramping all over the map looking for thermal clips. The Mako sections, while not refined in terms of physics, gives you the chance to explore different planets, find artifacts, or go to certain bases to accomplish a certain task. Overall, it had a huge scope than other contemporary shooters and one of my personal favorite games to date.
Mass Effect 2, on the other hand, was a much different take. It was still fun, considering I've played it more than Mass Effect. This was mostly due to the combat being more visceral and a bit more refined.
The biggest issue with Mass Effect 2, though, was mostly on the scope of the game. The planets that you explored in Mass Effect: gone. You can't land on planets and drive around to see the environment. The hub worlds (or non-combat sections of the game) are shrunken down to linear hallways. The Citadel, for example, was ginormous in Mass Effect compared to the relatively small structure that it's in Mass Effect 2.
What suffered the most was the RPG mechanics. The large skill-tree that gives your character numerous options to customize certain abilities have been taken down to four levels and very few abilities to customize. You can't even gain experience points by killing enemies, which is usually the case with most RPGs. Instead, you gain them through completing a mission. Despite all this, it still had some great moments, but didn't leave quite the huge impact that the first game did.
With all that said, let's get things rollin'. I'll start by saying the intro cutscene and the subsequent gameplay is probably THE weakest opening in the game. Why? Because it didn't properly build-up the invasion of the Reapers. Starting off at the beginning, we have a prologue cutscene where we hear the voices of Keith David and Lance Henriksen: Admiral Anderson and Admiral Hackett, respectively. They are getting reports that colonies are going black and they think it might be Reapers. It could be almost anything, yet immediately, based on the information they have, it automatically defaults to the Reapers.
Then we cut to Shepard, looking out a window, watching a kid playing with a toy model of a spaceship. He or She is visited by missing Jersey Shore cast member, James Vega. Okay, maybe not Jersey Shore, but who carries that kind of haircut in the future? He is voiced by Freddie Prinze, Jr., who does a pretty good job voicing the character. Too bad the character that he performs is about as interesting as watching a loading screen. They encounter Admiral Anderson along the way, informing them that the Reapers are coming and the Defense Council needs Shepard to confirm their suspicions. He or She does and the Council wants to know how to kill them. We get a speech from Shepard how we must fight or die, stand together, etc.
Here are a couple of problems I have with this intro. The first being that Commander Shepard is no longer Commander. People who had played the "Arrival" DLC won't be so confused, but my concern is the people who didn't play that DLC. They make very little reference to that incident in the intro and only after 20 hours of playing do they explain why Shepard was demoted. That's WAY too long for someone to understand what in the hell is going on.
Another problem is that Shepard doesn't look so torn up after basically destroying AN ENTIRE GALAXY. Specifically, a galaxy that holds more than 300,000 aliens called Batarians, who don't like humans all that well. In fact, the stuff that Shepard pulls would be considered as an act of war and considering that the Reapers are a handful to begin with, being in a war with an alien race would cripple the human race.
If you ask me, Shepard should be torn apart psychologically when he committed genocide, even if it was meant to preserve life of others ("The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few"). The opening should start with Shepard being lead to the courtroom to stand trial. There, the players can control Shepard going through different hallways and then getting a chance to see Earth of the Future! This will give players the chance to see what there is to lose when the Reapers show up. When the trial is commenced, the player will be informed about why Shepard is being demoted. After that, the Reapers can come in, unannounced, and destroy everything. This to me sounds more interesting than what is in the game, because it informs the players the current situation and builds the suspense to the eventual arrival of the Reapers.
Once you manage to escape Earth from the Reaper forces, you are told to gather as much races as you can in order to build the necessary army to take on the Reapers. However, you have to do a lot of tasks in order to win the favor of those races. Because of that, there is a lack of urgency. You're trying to build a reputation with the numerous alien species while people on Earth are dying by the millions. You are more concerned of getting useless artifacts for different people while the Reaper invasion on Earth comes off as a minor inconvenience. Sure, they talk about it, but it's nothing extensive to what we saw when we left it at the beginning of the game.
Another minor grievance is the incredibly short roster you are given. In Mass Effect, you had at least six teammates (five when you had to leave one of them to die). Mass Effect 2 gave you ten teammates, plus two in downloadable content. With Mass Effect 3, you are given six teammates again, plus one from the DLC "From Ashes". You think to yourself, "Well, it can't be that bad. You pretty much have the same amount of crewmembers like in the first game". There lies the problem. I was hoping that we would get all the crewmembers from the first two games and at the very end, we would see all of them face the Reaper forces and take them head on. However, you only get characters that are from the first game and the characters from the second are now in cameo roles. Great cameos, mind, but nothing extraordinary.
I was also expecting to get a chance to romance some characters that I couldn't before from the second game. I always wondered why we couldn't romance Kasumi Goto (if you're male Shepard, of course), but then again, I wouldn't blame Shepard to not trust Kasumi with any of his personal valuables in his private quarters. Speaking of which, in the second game, you know how you press a button to get Kasumi to talk, but you never engage in a long conversation to know her a bit more? That's pretty much what happened with EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER on board the Normandy. I press a button to get Garrus to say a random line, I press a button to get Liara to spew meaningless quips, I press a button to get Ashley to tell me squat, and so on.
I know that we have explored these characters backstories quite a bit in both games, yet there were a lot and I mean A LOT of opportunities for the developers to give us some of the characters backstories after Shepard turned his or herself in. For instance, Ashley Williams was Gunnery Chief last time, but now, she's Lieutenant Commander! What got her to that position? What were her secret missions that Anderson mentioned in Mass Effect 2? She couldn't tell us ANYTHING about it? The only character I can think of that does talk to you is James Vega and as I mentioned, he's probably the most uninspired character in the game. There are very random moments where you do engage in conversations with some of your squad, but they're few and far between.
I would like to bring up Diana Allers, a brand new character to join your team…somewhat. The whole point of her character is to update the galaxy on the missions that Shepard has accomplished. Don't we have two reporters already out there? Ellen Wong? Al Julani? Neither one of those two characters? Instead, we get this character that fell WAY TOO FAR into the uncanny valley territory. Every time her face appears, I shriek in terror and get my cross and holy water ready at hand. Besides that, her voice is unimpressive and stands out as the weak link in the cast. She's voiced, interestingly enough, by Jessica Chobot, who just so happens to be a staff writer at IGN, which makes you wonder: is she there solely to get the game a perfect score on that site? Lord knows, because all the other sites have given this game critical acclaim already.
Remember when I mentioned that there was a kid at the beginning of the game, playing with his toy model? While traveling through the rubble, you find the boy hiding in the duct. Shepard offers a helping hand to get him somewhere safe. "Everyone's dying", he says, with Shepard continuing to offer help. "You can't help me", he says to a disappointed Shepard. Two things popped in mind: First, the kid voice actor they got was not very good and second, what kid talks like that?!?! I bet the writers realized this and didn't give him many lines after that. Once you're picked up on the Normandy, you see the kid rushing to a shuttle, seeing Shepard on the way. He stops for a minute and then, a giant Reaper Destroyer comes in. The boy struggles to get inside the shuttle, the shuttle takes off, and the Destroyer shoots down the shuttle with the kid in it, and it explodes.
I felt nothing. I didn't care about the kid because I didn't know him. My concern was where his parents were. Even still, Shepard is mildly disturbed by this act, so Mr. Sandman makes sure that Shepard has nightmares concerning that one kid. What is up with this one kid?!?! He was uninteresting to begin with. Why is he so damn important? When some of your squadmates die, they seem irrelevant in Shepard's nightmares as he continues to see that kid burn up. Though the story still had some great moments, it all comes down to the most controversial topic ever for this game: the ending. I've never seen quite an uproar in my life, specifically a story segment, in a video game. You wonder what I thought about the ending I'm sure, but before I get into that topic, I have to ask about the Catalyst.
While you are recruiting the different races, your own people are building what is called "The Crucible", a device that can presumably destroy all the Reapers. However, after nearly completing it, they need one important element to get it to work: The Catalyst. It is revealed to be the Citadel, but near the end of the game, as you go up to the deck to destroy the Reapers, you are greeted by a holographic image of THAT KID again, revealing himself to be the Catalyst, saying that the Citadel is part of him. First of all, it is never explained why the Catalyst decided to take that form, specifically the kid that Shepard is so fixated on this whole goddamn time. Plus, that voice actor is given more lines to speak. No emotion, no gravitas, nothing. This is the Catalyst we're talking about here. We should have someone like James Earl Jones, or, hell, get Keith David to do two roles instead of one.
Also, the "solution" the kid talks about, as nonsensical and poorly defined as it is how they deliver it is rather boring. You should have the Catalyst be something of a faceless entity that has a voice. Have the Catalyst invade Shepard's mind and make Shepard and the players travel through different time periods to show the different races that exist before humans that were touched by the Reapers. Then, when it says that humans and synthetic beings can't be together, have the players prove the Catalyst wrong by introducing that whole bit of getting the Quarians and Geth together, and the Catalyst would spew out some variation of "Does not compute!" and fry out.
As for the entire ending itself, I kind of expected an ending like this. It seems that with every modern day shooter, we need to end on an angsty note, because happy endings are for girls, and Disney. This is evidenced with some of your squadmates sacrificing themselves during the story missions due to some convenient excuse (i.e. Mordin needs to get to the top of the tower, even though it's exploding. He's the only person to do it). Also, this does give the implication that this is the last Mass Effect game to star Commander Shepard, on the account that he dies in the end. Actually he lives, but you need enough War Assets to access that specific ending.
There's also that "Extended Cut" DLC that was released not too long ago. They're fine and they do explain a little bit more about what happened after whatever choice the player made. Still, it would've been nice to see an ending where Shepard would ride off into the sunset with the Normandy, have the sun coming up instead of going down, symbolizing a new day and a new beginning.
It wouldn't be a game without the gameplay and there's some change to the gameplay to Mass Effect 3. It's just that some of them are crap. Shepard is now more agile than ever, which is good, because controlling Shepard in Mass Effect 2 is like controlling a tank. He or She can roll to cover and run longer, making combat more exciting. The newly implemented melee combat is interesting, although I never understood how a holographic image of a knife can kill people. Maybe the safety was off. The powers that you are given are handled well enough and still fun to use. I was an Infiltrator and using tactical cloak on my enemies made me feel like Predator from Predator. If there was a complaint about the combat is that you can easily roll into the line of fire by accident.
Mass Effect introduced an entire galaxy to explore, to discover, to have adventures, etc. Mass Effect 2 cut that expansiveness down for a more streamlined experience, yet it still had some semblance of a galaxy that you can explore. Mass Effect 3 has thrown out that concept out the window and the levels you get to explore are filled with enemies. Hub worlds, or non-combat levels, are completely gone and now there's just one, the Citadel. Also, whatever happened to the Hammerhead that was presented in DLC? Sure it felt like the armor on the vehicle was held together by duct tape and spit, but at least it handled slightly better than the Mako and it was rather fun. Yet in this game, it and the Mako are completely absent and getting to explore planets was one of the many casualties in the gameplay.
Speaking of which, most of your sidequests are given to you on the Citadel, but they seem more random, rather than being missions with purpose. First of all, the only way to activate these sidequests is to pass by random citizens and overhear their conversations. Shepard does not seem to understand the concept of personal space. It would be awkward to have a random guy listen to your problems.
And once you get the sidequest, then in comes another problem with the game, is that your journal is atrociously awful! When you do the sidequest, the journal never bothers to update on your progress. Let's just take for example one of these sidequests, or at least, all of them, because most of them are just you looking for a rare artifact on a planet, in which its galaxy is controlled by the Reapers.
Once you find the artifact, after you avoid the Reapers giving chase, the journal NEVER TELLS YOU that you have the artifact and that you should turn it in to the person who asked for it. And believe me, having to sit through many loading screens to realize that I didn't have the artifact makes the game longer than it already needs to be. While on the subject on scouring planets, the mining resources game mechanic is another mechanic that got cut. NOT that I miss it, but now looking for artifacts and/or war assets feels like arbitrary nonsense and doesn't add any meat.
But wait, what about the RPG mechanics? It seems like BioWare heard the complaints about the RPG mechanics in Mass Effect 2 were lacking and tried to make the skill tree seem more expansive, but still it feels lacking. It still has the number ranks from Mass Effect 2, only now it has seven instead of four. Why do that? Hasn't the game, Skyrim, proved to us that a huge, far-reaching RPG can achieve blockbuster status? That game had hours upon hours of missions, sidequests, all that and more in a large map that you get to explore and discover. Mass Effect 3 could've been a lot bigger than Skyrim considering the fact that the game is set IN SPACE, rather than a country.
One thing that caught me off guard while Mass Effect 3 was in development was the announcement that it would include co-op multiplayer. Why an RPG game, a third in its series specifically, NEEDS a cooperative multiplayer is beyond me, but I know that other shooters, especially the third in their series, like F.E.A.R. 3, include co-op as a feature when previous games in their series had been done well without having a tacked-on multiplayer game.
I won't harp on it too much because I haven't played it. I don't have the friends to try this out and I'll let it slide, but what I won't let slide is that the multiplayer can have dramatic effects on the single-player campaign. When you gather War Assets, it adds to your total Military Strength, but you Galactic Readiness can act as a deduction to your Effective Military Strength, so you can have 6,000 Total Military Strength, but if you have 50% Galactic Readiness, it decreases your Effective Military Strength to 3,000.
This wouldn't be so bad if not for the fact that in order to get the "special" ending, you need an EMS of over 5,000. There could be a way to do it without multiplayer, but when I played it for the first time, I didn't get that number and I didn't get that ending. This is, of course, before the "Extended Cut" DLC, but even then, the DLC came in WAY after I played the game.
Speaking of Gears of War, there are a lot of elements that Mass Effect borrowed more so than Mass Effect 2. To be specific, there are moments where you are given a button prompt to show you an event that you wouldn't notice in the first place. Another moment is where you're taking down a Reaper Destroyer with what is essentially the Hammer of Dawn, instead of being a giant laser, it acts a guide for missiles from a fleet of ships. Instead of having vehicle sections, it now has turret sections to give something new to the gameplay and this would be new had it been only more than ten years late to the party.
And just a minor nitpick that I've noticed that nobody else seems to talk about is Ashley Williams's new look. I could care less of the new characters of James Vega and Diana Allers. The one thing that bugged me is that Ashley's hair is now long and flowing. I know what you're thinking: "Who gives a shit about her hair, it looks awesome". The problem that I have with it is that they want to keep the Alliance military as grounded as possible when it came to dress code. In the military today, women in the army needed their hair kept in a tight bun or cut short because in combat, the long hair would only get in the way and might end up getting them killed. Now, all of a sudden, Ashley gets a pass to have her hair long instead of a tight bun?
Onto one my favorite criticisms I have with this game, in that the game has bugs up the butt. They had two patches out and it still didn't fix any of the issues that I had with it. I made it a habit to keep track of these bugs on my Facebook page and almost made a drinking game out of it, but the game functioned for the most part after having to quit out of the game due to a loud sound glitch, which followed after two game-breaking glitches where it forced me to reboot my PS3.
You say, "It worked for me on the 360/PC", and you know what, I bet it does, but that's not an excuse for poor optimization for PS3 owners who don't own the other two game consoles. It's another example that the game felt rushed. These guys were about to release this game in the holiday season last year, but pushed it back so that they can iron out the bugs, which I thought was great. It means I get a perfectly functional game with great game mechanics, but this came out as half-true to the statement.
So after all nitpicking that I did on the game, you wonder what my overall thoughts are. I didn't hate it. I still like the visceral combat the game has to offer, the skill tree has a bit more depth to it last time round, some of the original characters are still likable, especially when they interact with each other while on the Normandy, and the story can have its moments.
With that being said, I thought the game was overhyped for its own good, leading to a somewhat disappointing end result. It doesn't feel like an RPG like the first game and the developers feel like they need to throw away ideas that didn't work, when all that they really need was a good refinement. The ending, of course, was a huge letdown. Even though I wasn't expecting much out of it, there was a feeling that the developers wanted to do something different for the ending, which would be fine, if it were one of the many endings that is shaped based on my actions.
The Shepard that I role-played would not be so foolish into believing the Catalyst's nonsensical reasons and would come up with a better way to deal with the Reapers that DOESN'T involve destroying the mass relays, which in turn would destroy a galaxy where the mass relays rest, which is pretty much EVERY galaxy, so my Shepard did more harm than good.
If Mass Effect continues with Mass Effect 4 with the continued notion of cutting ideas out and compress the scope of the previous games, the franchise would be in danger into becoming another generic third-person shooter, when there's too much of to begin with. There needs to be a restructuring on the RPG mechanics to the game, give it a more unique feel to the combat. It would be nice to have the vehicle sections back, having us explore the planets in the galaxy, looking for artifacts to extract, finding abandoned buildings and caves to uncover, and so on. Games like Skyrim shows us that such an expanding world with unique sidequests can prove to be a blockbuster hit, so why not Mass Effect? It's a bloody universe!
In reality, it all depends on BioWare now, who had proven to listen to fans suggestions and make changes based on them. But, if they make the same mistakes in the next series, then they will make the game something: forgotten.